Tauchnitz Editions


How to value a Tauchnitz Edition - Part II

Posted by Baronbern on April 15, 2012 at 10:15 AM

The first thing to say in Part II of this blog is that Part I was complete nonsense. None of it made any sense because the only thing that determines the value of a second-hand book is supply and demand. A book is only worth what someone else is prepared to pay for it. The unfortunate truth is that there are many old books that almost nobody wants to buy. There are even many old, rare, beautifully bound, and fine condition books that nobody wants to buy; a fact that is profoundly shocking to many book dealers.


In particular, there are many Tauchnitz Editions that nobody wants to buy. Although quite a few libraries hold Tauchnitz collections, I am not aware of any that are actively seeking to add to them, and the number of private collectors can be counted on the fingers of one hand, without getting much beyond the thumb. In practice most collectors are interested in the books of a particular author, or sometimes a particular genre, rather than a particular publisher, so demand for a book tends to be determined by how ‘collected’ the author is. What influences this is beyond me, but some authors are far more collected than others and of course many are not collected at all.


So demand for a particular book can vary enormously and so of course can supply. Some books had bigger print runs than others, and the probabilities of survival vary too, with the books of ‘literary’ authors generally more likely to survive. What this means is that the value of Tauchnitz Editions is potentially far more variable than suggested in Part I, according to the particular author and the particular book. Only an experienced book dealer can judge this, and even then most will have only partial knowledge of the market. It’s not difficult to see that ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘A Christmas Carol’ are particularly sought after (significantly more than other works of Austen or Dickens), but much more difficult to know which of Mrs. Braddon’s novels are the rarest or the most collected.


    One that's in high demand.


On the other hand many Victorian authors are now very unfashionable and hardly collected at all, in which case there may be simply no potential purchasers, at almost any price. I don’t think Bulwer Lytton or G.P.R. James have many fans these days, although I’d be delighted to be proved wrong.


So values of old books are determined by supply and demand, and only experienced book dealers can hope to have a real understanding of how supply and demand interact for a particular book. Does that mean that the thousands of Tauchnitz Editions offered for sale on the internet are all realistically priced by dealers with a clear understanding of the market? Of course it doesn’t, partly because few dealers have any significant knowledge of this obscure corner of the market, partly because many dealers are incurable optimists, and partly also for technical reasons to do with what I call ‘survivor bias’. This is the influence that comes from the internet showing only the prices of books that have failed to sell, with no record of what prices books actually sell at.


Surely there is an opening here for someone in the industry (ABE springs to mind) to make available in a searchable format, the prices of books that have actually sold. The pricing of books at a level where they have a realistic chance of selling is in everybody’s interests. In the meantime, my own opinion is that many Tauchnitz Editions offered for sale on the internet are over-priced, at levels where they are very unlikely to sell. The only sensible strategy for a dealer faced with books that have been unsold for years is to reduce the price. I’d suggest a 10% reduction every year, either until they sell, or until it’s clear that they’re only fit for pulping.

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